Airbnb is suspending bookings in Beijing until May as the rapid spread of the coronavirus hands the home-sharing giant a new kind of challenge.
The number of documented cases of the virus jumped by more than 15,000 to at least 60,000 overnight, most of them in China. The surge in numbers is partly due to health officials in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, changing the method of reporting cases. At least 1,369 people have died.
Airbnb customers who had reservations in Beijing between Feb. 7 and April 30 will be refunded, a spokesman for the travel start-up said, adding that the company was following local government guidance to short-term rental companies.
The coronavirus, which the World Health Organization has named COVID-19, presents a new headwind for Airbnb. The company is targeting this year for a long-awaited initial public offering after spending years battling other issues, such as local laws aimed at curbing its short-term rental model.
"As efforts to control the novel coronavirus outbreak continue, we will comply with additional guidance issued for the industry during this public health emergency," Airbnb said in a statement. "We will refund and support guests who had cancelled reservations. And we will continue to work diligently to build programs that support our community of hosts."
Bookings in the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus, are suspended until March 31. In the Yongchuan district in Chongqing in central China and Wuxi, near Shanghai, there is a freeze until Feb. 20.
The spread of the virus has roiled travel to China and elsewhere, prompting more than a dozen international airlines, including United, Delta and American, to halt or scale back China service. Airlines canceled more than 85,000 China flights from Jan. 23 through Feb. 11 because of coronavirus, figures from aviation consulting firm Cirium showed on Wednesday.
The fallout from the virus is affecting the travel industry even outside China, as attendees are staying away from high-profile events such as the Singapore Airshow. The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the world's largest telecommunications conference, which had about 100,000 attendees last year, was canceled. The organizer said it was "impossible" to hold the trade show because of the outbreak.